Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Blogging Code of Conduct

Technology blogger Tim O'Reilly has been working towards the creation of a Blogger's Code of Conduct. I find the response, at least as reflected in the comments to his post, interesting. It's largely oppositional, although I'm reminded of the business axiom that customers are ten times more likely to write in complaint than in praise.

But that said, I find particularly interesting the concern many seem to have with restricting anonymous comments, especially since the issue of anonymity was something of a catalyst in getting this blog started. That first post drew responses from two bloggers who post under pseudonyms, one of whom I know and respect and the other who I just respect. Both of them articulated valid reasons why remaining anonymous is important to them.

In contrast, my participation in last week's Blog Against Sexual Violence led me to this post, with it's chain of comments that includes some of the most vile shit I've ever had the misfortune to read. Posted anonymously, of course.

Maybe this is the price we have to pay to enjoy the right to free speech, but too often we forget that freedoms carry inherent responsibilities. This code of conduct strikes me as a good attempt to remind each other of that, and by adopting it to acknowledge individually the shouldering of ones share of that responsibility.

And ultimately, it furthers the cause of credibility in the blogosphere. Stephen Taylor's recent experience in the House of Commons and this discussion of whether bloggers are journalists point to the gap that still remains between new media commentators and those in the main stream media. A big portion of that gap rests on credibility issues and the lack of any "industry standards" within the blogosphere.


Saskboy said...

Any "code of conduct" for bloggers creates a subset of blogging. It hopefully will never come to a government in the free world requiring bloggers to adhere to an organization's standards.

- Posted with a pseudonym, but hardly anonymous :-)

Steve Marsh said...

Of course, we're talking about a voluntary code, created by bloggers for only those who choose it – not something forced on folks by "the man".

And bloggers already divide themselves into subsets – Progressive Bloggers, Libloggers and Green Bloggers, to name a few of the subsets you've chosen to join.

Of course, these are aggregators, so as subsets they have a particular function. But there's a reason you chose these ones and not Blogging Tories, Blogs4God or NAMBLAggers (okay, I made that last one up).

We naturally choose to associate ourselves with groups (subsets) with whom we share values. Choosing to adopt a code of conduct simply articulates a particular set of such values.

cenobyte said...

Saskboy brings up an interesting point. Very rarely does Yours Truly actually post comments *anonymously*, but with a pseudonym. It doesn't take much legwork to find out who cenobyte is, where cenobyte lives, and what cenobyte does for a living. And, for that matter, who cenobyte's friends are...

A very long time ago, back in the hazy, halcyon emerging days of email and newsgroups, there were several "netiquette" suggestions that went around. Most people, I should like to think, temper their comments and posts with a certain degree of respect and courtesy. Others don't, and perhaps never will. Some folks say things simply to play devil's advocate, and some people are just downright rude and vitriolic (and we remember, some of us, the endless hours of scrolling through the 'flame wars' on newsgroups and forums that often led to someone being banned from the site).

When I see anonymous posts like the ones on the blog against sexual violence, I have to ask myself not why the responder posted anonymously, but with how much of a grain of salt to take those comments. We know there are people in the world who think like that; we know also that their opinions are often reprehensible to us, and it's often the case that it doesn't matter what we say in response; those folks will probably never change their point of view. It's a sad and sorry state of affairs, but it's really no different from reading the letters to the editor in your local rag. Some of those letters are offensive, although arguably, I suspect most of the really truly awful ones are vetted at the editorial level, which brings one to the conclusion that both the power and the drawback of the blogisphere is that it is largely unedited and perhaps uneditable.

The author of that blog could have removed the offensive posts, but chose not to. S/he could have chosen to disallow anonymous posts, but did not. Does it come down to an argument of censorship?

The Blogger Code of Conduct is an interesting idea, because it adopts an opt-in sort of policy. You can choose whether to censor your own blog, and if so, on what grounds and in what way(s). It certainly doesn't take long to find, if one is so wont to do, entire websites devoted to the promuglation of hatred, violence, segregation, degredation, and a whole slough of 'isms'. The danger, I think, in any sort of censorship, is in attempting to silence opposing voices; we must be careful here, because it is one thing to attempt to silence voices of dissent and it is another thing entirely to disallow comments or posts or points of view that are illegal, libellious, harassing, threatening, or along those lines.

It is the fine line we must walk in censoring ourselves. Certainly, if we are attempting to present content that is 'civil and unoffensive' on our own personal journals, we have every right, I should think, to censor both ourselves and the (anonymous) comments in response. However, there have been many times I have been tempted to remove comments because they infuriate me or because their point of view diverges from my own. I have chosen not to, because even though I do not agree with some of the comments, they are important because of the voice they represent.

That being said, if someone posted the kind of crap that was anonymously posted on the blog against sexual violence, I suspect the majority of folks who read them would reply (not anonymously) in voices strongly opposed to the anonymous commenter's views.

Good stuff, Steve. I like folks who think about stuff!

Christi Nielsen said...

I happen to be the author of that post with the vile comments. I had much internal debate about whether or not to delete them. In the end, I chose to leave them, not due to a censorship issue, but rather because they were a huge eye opener to friends of mine who refused to believe that people like that exist. It's sickening, isn't it?

Regardless, it's quite amazing what people will say when they "think" they are hiding anonymously.

On another note, the credibility/lack of industry standard idea is a crock, in my opinion. Are we really supposed to believe that main stream media presents an unadulterated truth? This is one of the reasons that emerging media and social networking is so attractive to the individual. We're tired of being fed their edited version of truth.

That's not to say that bloggers or any other individual's version of reality isn't edited by their own experience filter. But I'll take that over most corporate commercialism disguised as credible news any day.

cenobyte said...

Good point, Christi; and I think that's what I was trying to get at, although going around about it in a really, really circumnavigable manner - that the tradeoff to edited/censored material is having to deal with the occasional jerk who comments anonymously or sets up his/her own website to promote Nasty Things.